ANALYSIS — While the 2020 unclassified report on Chinese military power by the Department of Defense estimates the communist regime’s arsenal of nuclear warheads is in the “low 200s,” a new think tank study puts that number at about 350. These weapons include hypersonic missiles, silo-based and road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.
And while that figure does include newer weapons “still in development,” it does not count, notes Defense News, “suspected air-launched ballistic/hypersonic missile, nor does it include the multiple, independent warheads that will be fitted on the DF-5C ICBM.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists report, written by the director at the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and an associate, said an estimated 272 of the 350 warheads in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are operational. Defense News notes that this “includes 204 land-based missile warheads, 48 submarine-launched warheads and 20 aircraft-delivered gravity bombs.”
Despite these new estimates, the report’s authors wrote that claims by the Trump administration’s special envoy for arms control that China is striving for a form of “nuclear parity” with the U.S. and Russia “appears to have little basis in reality.” But this is to be expected from the left-leaning group.
What they fail to adequately assess is that China is aggressively expanding its nuclear forces and capabilities, with an announced goal of doubling their arsenal by 2030. Other sources believe they will do far more than that.
Austin Long writes in War on the Rocks that:
… China’s nuclear posture and force structure has changed dramatically. Its arsenal has grown and diversified even as readiness and command and control have improved. By 2030, the country’s force structure and posture will be similar to America’s and Russia’s in many ways (albeit probably not at parity).
Unlike the U.S. and Russia, which maintain a Triad of nuclear forces (land, sea, and air-launched), China’s nuclear forces are currently limited to its land-based rocket forces and submarine-launched nuclear missiles. However, as the Pentagon’s report notes, China may fill that gap by developing a nuclear air-launched ballistic missile.
But that is not all. The PLA is dramatically growing its air-launch nuclear capability beyond an air-launched ballistic missile to include a new strategic stealth bomber akin to (if not a rip-off of) the U.S. B-2 bomber — the H-20 — and most recently a possible hypersonic boost-glide missile mock-up was seen on its current H-6 bomber.
Very soon we can expect China to have its own nuclear Triad at least comparable in ability, if not size, to the United States. From there, based on their current steady race to parity, China can be expected to steadily increase its size to reach nuclear parity with the U.S. by 2049, if not sooner.
Keeping pace with China’s nuclear expansion to maintain the U.S. nuclear edge over the next two decades, requires investment now. President Trump is right to increase and modernize America’s aging and neglected nuclear forces.
Joe Biden should continue and build on what Trump started, not allow U.S. nuclear forces to degrade while pursuing hollow arms control deals with dangerously naive, utopian goals to eliminate nuclear weapons.